Pray as if the Earth Matters: A Tu Bi'Shevat Seder

By Reconstructionist Rabbinical College students and Rabbi Arthur Waskow
boy planting tree with help from adult

Written by Sarah Barasch-Hagans, Sarah Brammer-Shlay, Miriam Geronimus, Lonnie Kleinman, Chayva Lerman, Michael Perice, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, May Ye

Formatted and Edited by Sarah Barasch-Hagans 


As We Begin...We Pause and Ground Ourselves.

Leader: Tonight we are engaging in a 500-year-old tradition.

In some ways, the tradition is older than that. As Rabbi Rami Shapiro explains, “Tu B’Shvat, the full moon of midwinter, had been important only in Holy Temple days, in the calendar of tithing. It was the end of the “fiscal year” for trees. Fruit that appeared before that date was taxed for the previous year; fruit that appeared later, for the following year.

The Talmud called this legal date the “New Year for Trees.”

But the kabbalists [of Tzfat in the sixteenth century] saw it as the New Year for the Tree of Life itself -- for God’s own self, for the tree whose roots are Heaven and whose fruits are the world itself and all God’s creatures. To honor the reawakening of trees and of that Tree in deep midwinter, they created a mystical seder.”

Leader: Tonight, we are creating a similar seder. We will ascend through the cosmic tree from our material world to the spiritual realm. Our journey will take us through the world of Assiyah (action), the world of Yetzirah (emotion, formation, relating), the world of Briyah (thought, creation, knowing), and finally, the world of Atzilut (spirit, emanation, being). We will enact these four worlds through four cups of wine and four courses of nuts and fruit.

Leader: We are also engaging in another, newer tradition -- that of connecting Tu B’Shvat with an appreciation for our planet and an awareness of various contemporary environmental issues. In line with this tradition, each of the four kabbalistic worlds will also be connected to one of the four elements -- earth, water, wind, and fire.

Leader: As Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes, “Tu B’Shvat is not a call to go back to Nature…. [It] is a call to return to our nature.” Let us remember that we are of nature, not apart from it -- for we are adam, earthling, and we are made of adamah, earth.

Olam Ha’Asiyah // עולם העשייה
The World of Action // The World of Rootedness

Learning from the Forests
From The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

Reader:
But why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of the wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. [...]

Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. Next time, perhaps it will be the other way round, and the supporting tree might be the one in need of assistance. When thick silver-gray beeches behave like this, they remind me of a herd of elephants. Like the herd, they, too, look after their own, and they help their sick and weak back up onto their feet.

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Meditation with the Trees
Feel free to join a tree outside for this meditation if weather permits.

Leader: We start by seeing our foundation, our earth, and how it is lain out beneath us. Its composition affects everything that sits above it. Stone, rocks, dirt, mud, water, life.

We turn our attention to the trees in harmony with the earth...

Breathing in and out, lung to lung resuscitation between us. Our lungs to their leaves. And when their leaves are gone, our lungs look alike, winnowing from tracheal trunks down to the most minute of passages. But what will happen if their lungs, our partner lungs, disappear? Love their presence. Breathe all the way in, loving their gift.

Imagine you are…
A tree among many, roots entangled below
A sapling reaching, yearning for light and growth
An oak, branches gnarled, left standing but lonely in a concrete playground
A flowering dogwood, the belle of the forest ball
A redwood. The majestic. You have seen all and will see the rest. Not even the earth beneath you can shake you in its quaking. You and the earth are equal partners now.

As you sense the trees around you - see them for who they really are as individuals - feel the earth beneath you too. Root your feet into the soles of your shoes, feel the energy through the floor and through the building’s foundation all the way to the foundation of everything.

Dear God, our Rock and our Foundation, be still and firm underneath our feet. Be present for us, that we may remember the holy work of nurturing and defending the life that grows from You.

Take a moment and then return to your table.

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Blessings and Nourishment
Fill your glass with white wine or juice  and gather some fruit with a tough outside and soft inside.

Leader: Tonight we eat the fruit and nuts that you have protected with a tough skin.
Through this act, we acknowledge that we need protection in life, both physical and emotional, as do all of Your creation. Our first cup of wine or juice is pure white. We see clearly through it, as through the leafless branches. But they are not lifeless. Blessed are You, Source of Life, who brings nature through its cycles.

Together:
בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ שֶׁחִינָּהּ אֱלֹהֵינוּ רוּחַ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵאת פְּרִי הַגָפֶן
B'rukhah at Shekhinah Eloheynu ruakh ha-olam boreit p'ri ha-gafen.
You are blessed, Shekhinah, Spirit of the World, who creates the fruit of the vine.

Drink wine or juice, making sure to leave some of it.

בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ שֶׁחִינָּהּ אֱלֹהֵינוּ רוּחַ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵאת פְּרִי הָאֵץ
B'rukhah at Shekhinah Eloheynu ruakh ha-olam boreit p'ri ha'etz.
Blessed are You, Shekhinah, Spirit of the World, who creates the fruit of the tree.

Eat fruit. 

Olam HaYetzirah // עולם היצירה
The World of Formation // The World of Water

Leader: As the Lakota People at Standing Rock have taught us: Water Is Life / Mni Wiconi.

Abridged from “Water Is Life”
By Craig Santos Perez, indigenous poet and professor of the Chamorro people of Guam
Poem in solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and all peoples protecting the sacred waters of this earth, September 10, 2016

Water is life
becuz my wife labored for 24 hours through wave contractions
becuz water broke forth from her body
becuz amniotic fluid is 90 percent water
becuz our daughter crowned like a coral island
becuz our blue planet is 70 percent water
becuz some say the ocean formed within the earth from the beginning
becuz we wage war over gods and waters
becuz we say stop, you are hurting our ancestors
becuz we say keep it in the ground
becuz we say stop, water is sacred
becuz we call ourselves protectors and water warriors
becuz they bring their banks and politicians and lawyers
becuz we bring our songs and prayers and ceremonies
becuz we bring all our relations and generations
becuz someday my daughter will ask me where the ocean ends
becuz we will tell her that the ocean has no end
becuz we will tell her that the ocean blesses the mountains with rain
becuz we will tell her that the rain feeds lakes and reservoirs
becuz we will tell her that water connects us to our cousins at Standing Rock
becuz i will whisper to her, while she is sleeping, hanom hanom hanom, my people’s word for water, so that in her dreams water will call her home

Please add, popcorn style, any lines you’d like to add for why you feel water is life.
Becuz…
Becuz …
Becuz ...


Reader: 60% of an adult human body is made of water. Every single cell in our body needs water to function. Without water, a human can survive for a week, at most. Three to four days is more likely.

In fact, every cell of every being needs water to function. Bacteria, plants, and animals, including humans, are all connected by this common necessity.

Reader: As climate change increases the frequency and severity of droughts across this planet, every life form is affected. For humans, this not only means less access to drinkable water, but also more chance of famine. Across Africa and the Middle East, water crises partially due to climate change have helped trigger civil unrest, mass migration, insurgency and war.

Reader: Climate change threatens the oceans and the life within them as well. As rising atmospheric temperatures raise sea surface temperatures and the oceans absorb CO2 and thus become increasingly acidic, coral reefs are dying. Teeming with life, coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet and are home to almost one-third of all marine fish species. Corals provide the foundation for a complex web of life, of interdependent species who rely on each other for shelter and food. From one angle, the coral reef is made up of many individual organisms. From another, it is a single entity.

Reader: While we cannot drink salt water, the ocean and coral reefs are vital to our well-being as well. Almost 40% of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of a coast, and many of these people live in developing countries and are dependent on coral reefs for food and income. Coral reefs provide shelter, food, and breeding grounds for many fish that people eat. They serve as a natural barrier to tsunamis and hurricanes. They prevent coastal erosion by breaking waves and providing sand. They are a source of medical discoveries. And they attract millions of tourists to reefs and beaches every year, providing a substantial amount of revenue for tropical countries.
 
Reader: At the same time, rising temperatures are melting the ice caps, causing the sea level to rise, submerging island nations and flooding coastal cities.

While we are all impacted by the various ways that climate change is affecting the Earth’s waters, poor people and people of color across the globe are being hit first and hardest.

Together: There are so many ways, often invisible, that life on this planet is dependent on and connected by water. There are so many ways that those connections are endangered by human actions. We pray to YHWH, the source of becoming, for the world’s ability to regenerate itself. We pray for the awareness, wisdom, and strength to keep on fighting for the health of our planet and ourselves. We acknowledge with gratitude the ways that waters, fresh and salty, sustain our bodies and our souls. May water continue to be a source of life and a womb that nurtures us.

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Ritual of Water

Leader: I’d like to share a water ritual I participated in when I was at Standing Rock. As the sun rose, we walked down to the water that surrounds Turtle Island. We each carried small jars filled with water from wherever on this planet we had come from. We brought water from Michigan, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Texas, the Sudan, Peru, Israel, and New Zealand. This was the end of November and the river was frozen. We broke a small hole in the ice and we poured the water from our jars, showing how each of us and this whole planet is interconnected by water.

Tonight, we also recognize the ways we are connected by water. Our bodies are 60% water but that water isn't stagnant. It is constantly flowing within and between us, evaporating and reabsorbing.

As we pass this goblet around the table, I invite you to pour a little water from your cup into the goblet. As you do this, think of the water you have brought with you tonight in your cells. Think of your ancestors and welcome them into this space. From what corners of the world did they find and absorb water? Imagine how water flows through and between all of us on this planet.

Pass around goblet and everyone adds a drop of water while singing.

We Sing Together
“As I Went Down in the River to Pray”

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol’ way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord, show me the way!
O sisters let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down
O sisters let’s go down
Down in the river to pray
As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol’ way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord, show me the way!

Once the goblet has made it around the whole table:

Together: Just as we have each contributed a drop of water to this cup, so are we interconnected by the water on this planet. May we continue to stand by the water, as it nourishes us.

Leader: Let us say Miigwetch, thank you, in whatever language, spoken or unspoken, is meaningful to each of us.

We all say thank you in the language of our choice.

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Blessings and Nourishment

Add a little red wine or juice to your white wine or juice and gather some fruit with a tough inner core (such as a seed or a pit) surrounded by a soft outside.

Hold up wine or juice.

Leader: Red is the color of love -- may our love for the Earth overcome our fear and spur us to action.

Leader: Red is also the color of determination. As we bless and drink this wine, let us set our kavanot (intentions) and refocus our attention on the holy work ahead.

Together:
נְבָרֵךְ אֶת עֵין הַחַיִּים מַצְמִיחַת פְּרִי הַגָפֶן
N'varekh et Ein Ha-hayyim matzmikhat p'ri ha-gafen.
Let us bless the source of life that nurtures the fruit of the vine

Drink some wine or juice, making sure to leave some behind. Pick up a piece of fruit.

Leader: The fruit you are holding is like a microcosm of this planet. Just as the earth’s crust is covered, on most parts, by water, so the pit of your fruit is covered by a watery flesh.

Leader: While the flesh of your fruit appears solid, it contains much water. Similarly, most of the water on this planet is hidden from plain view, whether it is in our cells or lies a few feet beneath the ground.

Leader: And, just as your fruit is exposed, without a shell to protect it, so too are the Earth’s waters vulnerable to pollution, easily absorbing excess CO2  from the atmosphere, excess fertilizer from our farms, and excess chemicals from our factories.

Leader: We bless and eat this fruit to remind ourselves of the centrality of water, seen and unseen, to our lives.

Together:
נְבָרֵךְ אֶת עֵין הַחַיִּים מַצְמִיחַת פְּרִי הָאֵץ
N'varekh et Ein Ha-hayyim matzmikhat p'ri ha-eitz.
Let us bless the source of life that nurtures the fruit of the tree

Eat the fruit.


Olam HaBriyah // עולם הבריאה
The World of Creation // The World of Air

”Who Has Seen the Wind?” by Christina Rossetti

Reader:
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by

“On Air,” by Ellen Bernstein

Reader:
Then the Lord God formed the human of the dust of the ground, and breathed into the nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)

In Arabic, the wind is ruh but the same word also means "breath" and "spirit," while in Hebrew “ruakh” enlarges the sphere of influence to include concepts of creation and divinity. And the Greek pneuma or the Latin animus are redolent, not just of air, but of the very stuff of the soul.

Without wind, most of the Earth would be uninhabitable. The tropics would grow so unbearably hot that nothing could live there, and the rest of the planet would freeze. Moisture, if any existed, would be confined to the oceans, and all but the fringe of the great continents along a narrow temperate belt would be desert. There would be no erosion, no soil, and for any community that managed to evolve despite these rigors, no relief from suffocation by their own waste products.

But with the wind, Earth comes truly alive. Winds provide the circulatory and nervous systems of the planet, sharing out energy information, distributing both warmth and awareness, making something out of nothing.

Story and Art Activity
The leaders of this section now lead us in a creative activity connecting us to Olam Ha’Briyah.

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Raising Our Voices in Song
Sing “Blowin’ in the Wind,” by Bob Dylan

[Verse 1]
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, and how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
The answer is blowing in the wind

[Verse 2]
Yes, how many years can a mountain exist
Before it is washed to the sea?
Yes, and how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?
Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn't see?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
The answer is blowing in the wind

[Verse 3]
Yes, How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
The answer is blowing in the wind

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Blessings and Nourishment
Gather fruits that are soft on both the outside and inside and pour a bit more red wine or juice into cup:

Together:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ חֵי הָעוֹלָמִים בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָפֶן
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu hey ha-olamim boreih p’ri ha-gafen
Blessed Are You God, Life of the Worlds, Creator of the Fruit of the Vine

Drink all of your wine or juice.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ חֵי הָעוֹלָמִים בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הָאֵץ
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu hey ha-olamim boreih p’ri ha-eitz
Blessed Are You God, Life of the Worlds, Creator of the Fruit of the Tree.

Eat fruit.


Olam Ha’atzilut // עולם האצילות
The World of Essence // The World of Fire

A Prayer for Kindling Candles of Commitment
“Between the Fires”

Leader:
We are the generation that stands 
between the fires:
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
From the burning forests of the Amazon,
From the hottest years of human history
that bring upon us
Melted ice fields. Flooded cities.
Scorching droughts. Murderous wildfires.
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.

"Here! The day is coming
That will flame like a furnace, “
Says the Infinite YHWH / Yahhhh,
The Breath of Life --
when all the arrogant, all evil-doers,
root and branch,
will like straw be burnt to ashes.
Yet for all who revere My Interbreathing Name,
a sun of justice will arise
with healing in its wings, its rays, its winds. . . .

“Here! Before the coming
of the great and awesome day
of YHWH/ the Breath of Life,
I will send you the Prophet Elijah
to turn the hearts of parents to their children
and the hearts of children to their parents,
lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction."
(Malachi 3: 20–21, 23–24)

Here! we ourselves are coming
Before the great and terrible day
of smiting Earth —
For we ourselves shall turn the hearts
Of parents to their children
And the hearts of children to their parents
So that this day of smiting
Does not fall upon us.
                                                
It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different, All of us bearing
One Spark.
We light these fires to see more clearly
That the Earth and all who live as part of it
Are not for burning.                            
We light these fires to see more clearly
The rainbow in our many-colored faces.

Blessed is the One within the many.
Blessed are the many who make One.

Barukh atah YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh / Yahhh
elohenu ruakh ha’olam 
asher kidshanu b’mitzvot,
vitzivanu l’hadlik ner shel brit Eliyahu
beyn haDorot.

Blessed are You —  our Source of Being,
Interbreathing Spirit of all life, 
Who makes us holy through connection with each other
And directs us to connect the past and future generations
By kindling the candles of Elijah’s Covenant.

Light candles of commitment

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Singing Forth the Light
“This Little Light of Mine” // Or Hadash

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine, shine, shine
Let it shine!

Or chadash al tzion ta’ir
Or chadash al tzion ta’ir
Or chadash al tzion ta’ir
v’nizkeh chulanu m’hera l’oro


Fire in Our Time

Reader: “An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from within the bush, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not being consumed” (Exodus 3:2).

But the bush was not being consumed. For the flame was a nondestructive source of power. When fossil fuels are burned to produce energy, they emit harmful gases that are the primary cause of air pollution and climate change. With every electric generation, every car ride down the street, every hot shower, we harm our planet.

But there is a safer way.

Renewable resources such as solar and wind provide us with natural, clean energy. Solar power is the conversion of energy from sunlight into electricity, and wind power is the use of airflow through wind turbines to produce electric power. However, as of 2018, wind power makes up only 2% of the total worldwide electricity production, while solar power makes up only 1.5%.

Reader: Throughout our history, in times of great sorrow and vast uncertainty, the power of hope has sustained the human spirit from complete and utter despair. That precious gem of human ingenuity remains our greatest dictum of ascendancy. But where does it come from?

In Jewish tradition, the Ner Tamid, “eternal flame,” is a light that shines in front of the ark in Jewish houses of worship.  It is said to represent G-d’s eternal presence in our holy sanctuary. However, it could also be said that we too have an eternal, or internal flame. Our eternal flame ignites our passion and desire to seek justice—not only in the world—but also for the world. In the Torah, God tells Moses that the Israelites will be a light unto all nations. That light represents a beacon of hope. It is thus our sacred responsibility to speak out about our natural environment and the sustainable management of its resources both in public policy and individual behavior. Only then can we truly be a light unto all nations. Only then will be worthy of calling this planet, our home.

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Blessings and Nourishment
Here, we eat no fruit. Pour red wine or juice into your cup.

Together:
נְבָרֵךְ אֶת עֵין הַחַיִּים מַצְמִיחַת פְּרִי הַגָפֶן
N'varekh et Ein Ha-khayim matzmikhat p'ri ha-gafen.
Let us bless the source of life that nurtures the fruit of the vine.

Birkat Hamazon // ברכת המזון
Blessing After the Meal

V’akhalta ואכלת
Hebrew: Deuteronomy 8:10
English: Hanna Tiferet Siegel, hannatiferet.com

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ
V’akhalta, V'savata, Oo-vay-rakh-ta

We ate when we were hungry
And now we’re satisfied
We thank the Source of Blessing
for all that S/he provides

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ
V’akhalta, V'savata, Oo-vay-rakh-ta

Hunger is a yearning
In body and soul.
Earth Air Fire Water
And Spirit makes us whole.

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ
V’akhalta, V'savata, Oo-vay-rakh-ta

Giving and receiving
We open up our hands
From Seedtime through Harvest
We’re partners with the land

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ
V’akhalta, V'savata, Oo-vay-rakh-ta

We all share a vision
Of wholeness and release
Where every child is nourished
And we all live in peace

וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבֵרַכְתָּ
V’akhalta, V'savata, Oo-vay-rakh-ta

Complete Ceremony

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